Minnesota lawmakers were kind to the arts in 2006. They doled out $23.5 million in bonding money to three prominent arts projects in the Twin Cities.
In addition to the $11 million going to the Shubert, the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in St. Paul got $7.5 million for maintenance and capital improvements. And the MacPhail Center for Music received $5 million for its new building near the Minneapolis riverfront.
Artspace officials say they're pleased with what they got for the Shubert, even though it's $4 million less than their request. Out of the $37 million cost of the project, that leaves Artspace with $12 million to raise. But Kim Motes, director of the Minnesota Shubert Center for Artspace, isn't complaining.
"Twelve million dollars is certainly better than $25 million, which is what we were looking at without state bonding," Motes says.
To control costs, Motes says planners have streamlined the project's design. They'll refurbish the 1,000-seat Shubert Theater and connect it by atrium to the Hennepin Center for the Arts.
The complex will feature an event center that seats 300 people, and a glass-walled, mezzanine-level rehearsal studio that patrons can view from the lobby. There will also be an online interactive classroom that can be connected to any school in the state for dance or music instruction. Outside, a high-tech, 5-foot by 20-foot marquee will flash videos of upcoming attractions.
"This design really accomplishes a lot of our goals for what we want this facility to be, and how we want it to serve the arts, and to serve the people who are coming into the facility," Motes says.
When it's finished, the Shubert will immediately become home base for a host of dance groups, including James Sewell Ballet and Minnesota Dance Theater.
Choreographer James Sewell says people tend to associate an art form with a prominent venue where it's presented. For theater it's the Guthrie. For classical music it's Orchestra Hall. Sewell says local dance has never had such a locale, and that's hurt its visibility.
"I think the Shubert is a place for dance to have a big face within the community -- that people can know, 'Hey there is dance here, and it's ours, and let's go see some,'" says Sewell.
It'll also be a place for music. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra plans to make the Shubert its home across the river eight to 16 weeks out of the year.
SPCO President Bruce Coppock says the orchestra has long sought a performance space in Minneapolis. He says the Shubert, with its intimacy and exceptional acoustics, became the obvious choice.
"For us to be able to serve the downtown Minneapolis audience in a superior venue just seemed absolutely critical to us in building audience for the future," Coppock says.
As a venue for lots of dance and a little music, the Shubert will not be unique. Just a mile and a half away, the Southern Theater offers a similar lineup. When the Shubert plan was first proposed, Southern Artistic Director Jeff Bartlett admits he was a little nervous. He was worried the 1,000-seat Shubert would dominate the small dance market.
Bartlett says it won't be easy to fill the Shubert week after week with dance performances, at least at first.
"I do think that it is possible. And that I've actually tasted here at the Southern Theater a little bit of the idea of saturation, where there's almost too much activity for the amount of audience that there is," says Bartlett. "Part of the way to solve that problem is to increase the audience overall."
Bartlett says he has become more comfortable with the idea of the the Shubert joining the Southern and other spaces as part of a constellation of local dance venues.
The Shubert's Kim Motes predicts the Shubert will begin to tap a new audience for dance when it opens in the fall of 2008. She says having a dance venue in the Hennepin Ave. Theater District with restaurant, parking, and public transit choices will generate a lot of excitement for the art form.
"Five years, 10 years from now," she says, "the dance audience will look very different and be much larger."
And the Shubert, Motes predicts, will be the primary catalyst for that growth.